How to Bust Clutter

by Tammy Strobel on November 5, 2011

“Where is the lid to the coffee mug?” Logan asked.

I looked at Logan, shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know. It was on the counter a few minutes ago. Let’s look for it.”

I pulled open the drawer where we keep our forks, knives, and other cooking utensils and found it on the top of the forks. I looked up at Logan with a surprised look on my face and he rolled his eyes.

For the last weeks, I’ve become a clutter busting machine. If something is out of place, I put it away immediately and I have a feeling I’m starting to get on Logan’s nerves.

We’ve been living in the little house for two weeks and one of the things I’ve noticed is this: If I don’t pick up my stuff the house looks like a bomb went off. I don’t have a lot of stuff, but it’s still easy to create clutter piles with my limited belongings.

Typically, when I get home I unload my bike bag, which contains my camera, computer, journal, wallet, iPod, and a plethora of power cords. I’m always tempted to leave my stuff on the counter and make a cup of tea instead of putting it away. Rather than procrastinating, I use a few simple strategies to keep clutter to a minimum.

First off, when I walk in the door I immediately put my stuff away. For example, shoes aren’t allowed to be worn in the tiny house, so they either stay on the porch or sit by the heater to dry off (It’s been raining lately). The same goes for my wet rain coat. I hang up my coat above the heater to dry and then it goes into the closet.

In addition, each of my belongings has a designated home. I have a spot for my computer, power cords, clothing, and books. Putting stuff aways saves me time because I don’t spend 15 minutes looking for my keys or iPod every morning.

If I don’t follow these simple steps, I can’t seem to find what I need and it’s frustrating to constantly look for the same belongings over and over again. The trick is forming a ritual of picking stuff up and putting it away.

Share your clutter busting tips in the comments section.

1 rob November 5, 2011

I *so* need to learn that ritual. I feel proud of myself if the car keys go on the shelf by the door 3 times in a row. :)

2 abril November 5, 2011

A friend give this advise and it worked great: touch things only once…it means that once you pick something, don’t leave it anywhere, but using it and put it back where it belongs.

3 Peggy November 5, 2011

ah, the “ohio” system: Only Handle It Once. I aspire.

4 Shadlyn Wolfe November 5, 2011

At our house the single hardest thing to keep put away is cords. We’re technophiles, so there are cord everywhere.

My solution is when I’m picking up the living room and I find a stray cord, it goes in the drawer under the TV, rather than trying to figure out where it came from. When one of the guys asks me if I’ve seen the cord to “X”, I just point them there and it usually is waiting for them.

I used to try to put them away ‘properly’ but then you find that all the USB cables are hiding by one computer and there are three DS chargers on one wall. :/

I guess this could be summed up as “have a designated “lost and found” spot.”

5 Laila Atallah November 5, 2011

What a great idea! Love it!

6 Bekah Sandy November 8, 2011

I employ that method as well. It’s one drawer in my coffee table, and it’s a catch-all for anything tech-related: power cords, remotes, batteries, etc. It actually helps a great deal.

7 Jonathan | OfficeHacker November 5, 2011

Great post! I couldn’t help but laugh about your bombshell statement. I work in a typical cubicle and it is SOOO easy make it look like a bombshell went off. With any space (small or large), you really have to be extremely intentional when entering the space as you said. Having a designated space for everything is great for existing items but new items really need to be managed properly to prevent clutter. I like Miss Minimalist’s idea of “something in, something out.” That works for me at work when it comes to supplies. I also have a ‘No paper comes in’ policy to my workspace. Scan it or recycle it. Our office is notorious for files, presentations, memos, etc… so eliminating that from my cubicle is priority number one. Do I like scanning every document? No. Do I like spending time doing it? No. Tempting to let everything stack up, but I love the peace of mind that a clean workspace gives me and that is more important. Great post Tammy!

8 Laila Atallah November 5, 2011

Jonathan: Great comments! I’ve been *wondering* exactly how one begins to go paperless, and your detailed comments were illuminating. Totally radical idea: “No paper comes in.” I can barely fathom it!

9 Sarita Li Johnson November 5, 2011

Great tips/reminders, Tammy! Right now we live in a two bedroom house, but we’re looking for a sailboat to live aboard, so it will almost be like a tiny house.

10 Sherri Dunham | The Budding Lotus November 5, 2011

I face a similar challenge in our small living unit that has extremely limited storage – no real closets, only an armoire in each of the 2 bedrooms and a book shelf with 2 drawers in our living room. So it is definitely a challenge to find a home for little things like our sunglasses, sun hats, bug spray, suntan lotion, power cords, etc. Right now they just pile into the book shelves. So, while I don’t really have any tips to share this post is inspiring me to try and find a better, and more aesthetically pleasing, solution to our bits of clutter. Thanks!

11 Kathy Parker November 6, 2011

Sherri, How about a basket on the shelf? Same place, just contained. :))

12 Sherri Dunham | The Budding Lotus November 7, 2011

That’s a good suggestion Kathy, I was actually just thinking about that the other day. I live in the “wild west” of Costa Rica and some cute, organizational things are hard to come by. But we’re making a trip to the “big city” this week so I think I might look for something. Thanks! :-)

13 Alex Pino November 5, 2011

Great tips Tammy! Thank you.

14 Casey November 5, 2011

Thank you for this post, Tammy.

Sometimes I forget that it’s not just that we have too much stuff or too big of a space that everything explodes. It’s that we just don’t put stuff away when we are done with it. I am constantly working on this. And constantly failing.

At least I won’t feel so discouraged knowing that it’s an issue in your amazing Tiny House too!

15 Sue November 5, 2011

Hi Tammy,

This a timely article and a great reminder about how quickly clutter accumulates. I’ve occasionally “stuffed things in drawers” to make surface appearances look less cluttered, only to discover that a non-mindful approach to putting things away is no better than letting the clutter pile up when I can’t find what I’m looking for. I constantly have to move my valuable papers and books out of plain view because I have a cat who literally likes to get his teeth into a good book and is a bit too eager to serve as the feline version of a paper shredder. Now if he would just shred the stuff I don’t need, that would be really helpful and much more environmentally friendly than using an electric shredder! :-)

16 Laila Atallah November 5, 2011

Ha. A *discriminating* cat-shredder. Yes.

17 Poezel November 6, 2011

Hi Sue,

I have a book-eating cat as well :-)

I bought a Hemnes bookcase at Ikea, with glass doors. This also solved the dust problem, and it brings me more peace of mind; open bookcases give me a sense of disquietness, because of all the items with different colors and size in them. A cluttered feeling, even if there is no clutter. With doors it seems less cluttered, even with the same books in them.

I reduced my bookcases from 3,5 open bookcases to just 1 with doors, and placed it in the dressing room.

18 Joe November 5, 2011

My dad has been telling me that I should have a home for everything for years but I never listen to him… I guess thats why my bedroom is an unorganized mess and why his is fairly organized. goos post :)

19 John - Austin TX November 5, 2011

I am also a clutter busting machine. I love using small plastic boxes (like what you would use for CD’s; also could re-purpose a used food container that is past its prime) to create mini storage modules. Invaluable in keeping small things organized, and I know where to find small items when I need them. I have one to keep all the iPod cables, an HDMI cable, various charging cables, external hard drive, spare rechargeable batteries, etc. I use another one to keep small bike items (spare lock keys, repair kits, small tools, lights, etc.). My wife and I have an office module to store spare pens, pencils, staples, ink cartridges, paper clips, etc. We keep these either on a shelf or in the closet. The key principle is that whatever goes into the box has to be items you actually use. The modules are not a place where you put stuff to gather dust and experience a slow agonizing death. Haha. We learned this practice from from Miss Minimalist in her book The Joy of Less.

20 Michele November 5, 2011

I have a few vintage picnic baskets, and dump any accumulated clutter in them. One is by the door for gloves, hats, etc. and one is in the living area for cords, battery chargers, paperwork. We always know where to look when something is missing!

Your house looks beautiful!

21 Anna November 5, 2011

I definitely appreciate lack of clutter and generally feel the need to make sure our living space is neat and tidy because I enjoy it more that way. Sometimes, though, I let go of this and enjoy the temporary lazy luxury of a mess. I don’t let it get out of control or take over my life, but sometimes it is good for me to let go.

22 Samantha November 5, 2011

I have three children, so clutter is a constant challenge. We’re really working at going through everything we own and clearing off the surfaces in our home, and in the process I’m trying to embrace the idea of “completing the cycle”. If something comes in the house it needs to be put away, if I pick something up I must put it away, if the kids pull something out to play with it they must put it away, you get the idea. It is definitely helping!
Thank-you for all of the inspiration on downsizing and working towards minimalism!

23 Sunday November 5, 2011

I used to be so good at this but now I find that I just throw everything willy nilly in the closet. The room looks fabulous and like I’m a neat freak…just don’t open the closet. What it tells me: I still have too much stuff. Time to scale back a bit more :)

24 Donna November 5, 2011

I just cannot stand when anything is out of place. As soon as I get in from shopping, I put everything away, and if there doesn’t seem to be a ‘home’ for something, or a closet tends to be getting crowded – I freak. We are in the process of tidying our large home’s attic, and our goal now is to fill at least one trash bag a week. It is a mess beyond messes!!

25 Lindy November 5, 2011

I am going to try to apply your 2 tips to myself. It’s the everything having a designated home I have trouble with. I just don’t seem to have enough ‘homes’ for my belongings. You are an inspiration in your tiny house.

26 Socal November 5, 2011

Your tiny home is cool! Do you have electric and water? I’m so curious. It doesn’t look like you brought very much with you into your tiny home, do you have a storage locker somewhere?

27 Kathy Parker November 6, 2011

Clutter has been the bane of my married existence. :)) Now we also live with our grown daughter, who must take after her dad. My stuff?? Always put away, but theirs??? Not so much. I’ve been the clutter buster for 30 years and now I’m just tired of it. So now, when they are running around looking for a hat or keys, I just shrug and walk away. My only real solution to this, is a basket on the stairs. If I do pick up and something isn’t mine, I put it in the basket. Works most of the time, except if the basket becomes too full. lol Thanks Tammy, we recently downsized too, but this had been an ongoing problem, regardless of the square footage. :)

28 domestic kate November 6, 2011

I think you hit the mark with making sure everything has a specific home. I have some things now that sort of float around my apartment because they don’t have a home. I need to fix that. But most of my belongings have designated homes, which greatly reduces clutter. I recently helped a friend purge his room in his apartment, and when he wanted to keep something, I’d say, “Okay, where are you going to put it?”

29 Emily November 6, 2011

We recently moved to a 1BR/1BA condo, so I am a real stickler for everything having a place and getting there as soon as possible after being taken out to be used or brought back inside. We live in a humid, tropical climate, so some things do have to be hung to dry before they can go into the closet or laundry basket, but other than that, everything gets put away fairly quickly. I end up doing a lot of “tidying up” behind my husband (and dog!), but because it’s such a small space, I honestly don’t mind. The person with the least tolerance for clutter in a household (i.e., me) tends to adopt that role in order to keep his/her own sanity!

30 my honest answer November 7, 2011

My tip – if you find yourself NOT putting something away, the designated spot you’ve chosen isn’t the right one. It’s obvoiusly too hard / out of the way / cluttered. If you give everything a proper, well thought-out, and easy to access spot to live, it should be easier to put it away than leave it out.

31 Jen November 8, 2011

Love this sentiment.

32 Nichole November 7, 2011

I needed this. I just moved into a house, living with more people than I’ve ever lived with in my life, and I want to be better about my clutter. I used to live alone and it was incredibly easy to leave stuff piled everywhere. Now, I want to be much more conscious about my things. Just one more step in the intentional lifestyle I’m trying to build.

33 Liz November 7, 2011

We live on our sailboat so clutter is a no no for us too. Everything is on a list, unfortunately I was the one to give everything it’s home and write the list so my husband constantly asks where everything belongs. We do have a small bin for items waiting to be returned to their home, as hubbie is frequently sitting on top of where the items needs to go. Keeping everything in it’s place makes it so easy for us to set sail very quickly. Thanks for the post I enjoy reading them.

34 Victoria November 7, 2011

And here I was impressed because I finally got the dining room table cleaned off, and the kitchen counters {mostly} cleaned off! I have a long way to go! I still have little odds & ends that don’t really have a home, and those are the worst.

Love the pic of your tiny home counter!

35 Clare November 8, 2011

A mantra from a friend some years ago has helped me immeasurably:
‘Put Away Not Down’.
My two year old perhaps is not so good at it yet, though…

36 Naomi November 10, 2011

“We’ve been living in the little house for two weeks and one of the things I’ve noticed is this: If I don’t pick up my stuff the house looks like a bomb went off. I don’t have a lot of stuff, but it’s still easy to create clutter piles with my limited belongings.”

Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve been giving myself a really hard time because of this issue since we moved into 400 square feet. Space was never the issue for me before this. It has encouraged me to downsize even more, though, and to stay on top of putting things away.

37 Sandra / Always Well Within November 11, 2011

Tammy, I really needed this reminder! I am far from clutter free but wishing to move more in that direction. Thanks for the inspiration.

38 Pierre November 16, 2011

I’m a believer in the “Do It Now” principle for tackling clutter. Rather than letting things build up, deal with them right away. If something’s a big project, just do a little bit of it now. Don’t worry if you can’t do it ALL now. But in general have a bias for action.

39 Rose Byrd November 29, 2011

I agree, the most important first, middle, and last step is to vigilantly monitor the amount of “stuff”. Yes, everything does need its own “home”. But I find that I enjoy choosing one or two discovered treasures from natural world and one or two notes from friends and family (no matter how yellowed!) to rotate on a display on the kitchen window ledge. They have their own permanent home, but a rotating display keeps me mindful of how much MORE I can enjoy such items when there are only a FEW, very special specimens of this type! Thus, continuing motivation to reduce the amount of “stuff”!

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